Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed a comprehensive package of reforms Aug. 28 that are designed to improve the effectiveness of the state’s juvenile justice system and save the commonwealth up to $24 million over five years. The legislation, Senate Bill 200, follows successful reforms of Kentucky’s adult criminal justice system in 2011.
“For the second time in four years, Kentucky leaders have turned to data and research to craft effective solutions for the state’s justice system,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project. “By boosting proven interventions for lower-risk youth, this legislation will help Kentucky protect public safety while improving accountability and outcomes for children and their families.”
The new law is based on policy recommendations from a bipartisan task force chaired by Senator Whitney Westerfield (R) and Representative John Tilley (D), both of Hopkinsville. The 12-member task force, which received intensive technical assistance from Pew, found that more than half of the youth committed to secure facilities were there for low-level misdemeanor offenses or for breaking the rules of community-based supervision. These youth were serving almost as much time out of home as felons.
The task force also found that a lack of community supervision and treatment programs has contributed to the large number of low-level juvenile offenders sent to secure state facilities.
Grounded in research that shows community-based alternatives for low-level and –risk youth are more effective and less expensive than secure facilities, S.B. 200 restricts placement of these youth out of home and limits commitment and probation lengths. The legislation also sets the stage for services to be delivered earlier and more consistently by enhancing the pre-court diversion process and putting greater emphasis on family involvement in interventions.
In each local area, juvenile justice stakeholders will form a family accountability, intervention, and response team to review unsuccessful diversion cases and make recommendations before youth are sent to court.
The new law strengthens evidence-based programs by requiring the use of validated risk and needs assessments to guide placement, supervision, and treatment decisions. The legislation also establishes an incentive grant program to provide funding for local services and requires that savings from the reduction in the out-of-home population be reinvested in the grant program for community supervision and treatment.
The bill also creates a council to oversee implementation of the policies, review data and develop performance measures, and continue to study juvenile justice issues.
The public safety performance project and its partners have assisted two dozen states, including Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas, with similar data-driven analyses and consensus-based policy recommendations.
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